The video imagery begins in dramatic slow-motion: The crew of a Blackhawk helicopter sprints toward a waiting aircraft. Upon boarding, it takes to the sky. Cruising over forbidding alpine terrain, the crew locates an injured mountain climber trapped in a crevasse atop a remote peak. The Blackhawk lowers a Navy diver, who straps the victim into a gurney. Then the two are hoisted aloft on a long, thin cable. Once aboard, the aircraft speeds off into the sunset, headed for the nearest hospital helipad.
Beautifully photographed in digital HD and impressive to see, this three-minute commercial is remarkable not only for its depiction of a highly trained U.S. Navy rescue team, but also for the fact that it was shot in just a few hours using Canon EOS 5D Mark II Digital SLR cameras. As its director of photography, Shane Hurlbut, explained, it could not have been made with any other camera system.
“It would have been impossible to shoot within the time parameters we faced,” Hurlbut said. “Nothing is as small and nimble as our Canon 5D Mark II camera packages. We rolled eight 5D Mark II cameras simultaneously in real-time. Re-loads and unlimited re-takes were not an option.”
Hurlbut carefully pre-planned the shoot. He used one Canon 5D Mark II onboard a Jet Ranger helicopter to shoot the Blackhawk in flight. Another camera operator aboard the Blackhawk took advantage of the 5D Mark II’s compact size to capture shots from inside its cockpit. He also shot breathtaking views by holding the 5D Mark II out the aircraft’s door, and by aiming straight down the rescue cable. Later, airlifted part-way up the mountain, Hurlbut and his camera assistant hiked another 1,000 ft. carrying backpacks that held additional 5D Mark II’s, lenses, and a tripod. At the summit, Hurlbut shot the Blackhawk hovering overhead.
“If we had used motion-picture cameras it would have taken us half the day just to haul the gear up the mountain,” Hurlbut noted. “What we accomplished was all because of the compact nature of the 5D Mark II and our ability to take advantage of its still-photography platform to make beautiful motion pictures. It was amazing what we were able to pull off in so short a time.”
Even more amazing was that it was the second U.S. Navy commercial they shot that day. Several hours earlier, Hurlbut and his team used their Canon 5D Mark II cameras for an equally complex shoot of Navy swimmers making a helicopter rescue of a downed pilot in the ocean.
A member of the American Society of Cinematographers, Hurlbut has captured moving images using practically every film and video format currently available. When he first saw the Canon EOS 5D Mark II Digital SLR camera, however, he immediately identified it as a “game-changer,” adding that he had “never been so excited by the creative possibilities a camera offers cinematographers.”
“I call the Canon 5D Mark II a ‘game changer’ for several reasons,” Hurlbut elaborated. “The first is its big CMOS sensor’s ability to collect light in widely varying ISO’s. It’s very clean up to 1600 ISO. Its light-gathering capability has a nice, very film-like gradient. The 5D Mark II’s sensor also delivers ‘VistaVision’ depth of field. Not one digital HD camera out there will deliver that. I find that if you operate at the right f-stop with the 5D Mark II, you get a wonderful, shallow depth of field. You’re also getting skin tones unlike any delivered by other cameras. I don’t think the other manufacturers have put the kind of R&D into their cameras that Canon put into its 5D Mark II. Perhaps the biggest reason why the 5D Mark II is a game changer is because it’s so compact. You can capture perspectives with it that no other camera system can deliver.”
Have Cameras, Will Travel
Hurlbut cites the Canon 5D Mark II’s compact design as crucial to his current production, Act of Valor, which depicts Navy SEAL covert ops in fast-paced action close-ups. Hurlbut has been shooting the movie in various locations around the world for the past year. The compact size of the 5D Mark II enables his six-man crew to transport an eight-camera production package in the overhead bins of airliners and avoid the risks of checking it as baggage. Passing through customs is also simplified, given that still cameras typically entail fewer restrictions than motion-picture cameras. Once on location, his crew of six goes into what Hurlbut called “platoon module,” with everyone carrying equipment and multi-tasking production duties. This includes shooting with the 5D Mark II.
“Whether they’re grips, gaffers, or loaders, they’re all members of my elite team,” Hurlbut commented. “They’re all co-collaborators and they’ve all used DSLRs. When I hand them a 5D Mark II camera they know what to do. It’s amazing the great footage they get.”
The compact size of the 5D Mark II also speeds production, allowing for many more set-ups per day than are possible with larger cameras. Hurlbut has his crew outfit their 5D Mark II cameras for different shooting configurations that he can switch to at a moment’s notice. These configurations are made possible with support rigs and accessories from such companies as Redrock Micro and Zacuto. Hurlbut has also designed his own custom base plates for mounting extra-large motion-picture lenses on the 5D Mark II.
A Fresh, New Style
Hurlbut believes that the Canon 5D Mark II is destined to benefit the entire production industry. “I have seen agency creatives get very excited by the 5D Mark II because its reduced cost and high film-like quality make storyboards that were once too expensive to shoot suddenly become affordable. Also, I think as more film studios begin to understand the power of the 5D Mark II platform they’ll change the way they think about making movies and episodic television.”
“More than anything, what I love about the Canon 5D Mark II is that it’s part of a global revolution,” Hurlbut concluded. “The 5D Mark II is causing a paradigm shift in the production industry because it provides film-like quality combined with lightweight operation and amazing mobility. It’s also affordable, so it’s giving a lot of people a voice who’ve never had one before. I think the style of filmmaking that’s going to come out of the use of the 5D Mark II will be a whole fresh new style that hasn’t even been named yet.”